Joint Emergency Operation Plan NGO response to emergency food needs in Ethiopia

By Alix Carter

Alix Carter has worked in the humanitarian sector in Ethiopia for almost three years. She is currently working as the Humanitarian Accountability Advisor at CARE Ethiopia, supporting with emergency programmes in sectors of nutrition, WASH, agriculture/livelihood, food aid, humanitarian reform, and climate change adaptation/disaster risk reduction.

Many thanks to all the Joint Emergency Operation Plan (JEOP) partners - CRS (JEOP lead agency), CARE, World Vision, FHE, Save the Children US, Save the Children UK, and REST - for their time and effort provided through information and interviews with key staff members responsible for implementing and managing JEOP.

Emergency food relief continues to be a recurrent need in Ethiopia since the Ethiopian famine of the 1980s, which was so severe that it demanded global attention and response. Institutional donors and non-governmental organisations (NGO) have been responding with emergency food relief during crisis years for decades to alleviate hunger. Massive food shortages resulting from severe drought plague the country and drastically hinder production in this predominantly rain fed agricultural economy with 83% of livelihoods in the agriculture sector1. The Government of Ethiopia recognised that a system to prepare proactively for cycles of drought while addressing chronic food insecurity was required to protect its citizens. It responded in 2005 by creating one of the largest safety net programmes in Africa - the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP)2 (see article in this issue of Field Exchange by Matthew Hobson.

A scene from Karsa woreda, East Hararghe Zone, Oromia Region

Despite the positive impact of PSNP, the need for emergency food aid during times of acute food insecurity and shock still persists, as the resources in PSNP are not enough to address all vulnerable populations and mitigate acute food insecurity. The US Government reports that 25 million people in Ethiopia go hungry every year, the most chronically food insecure being children under five years and women3. The Government of Ethiopia's humanitarian appeal of January 2010 identified 5.2 million people in need of humanitarian food relief assistance across the country this year.4 Emergency food aid programmes administered jointly by the Government, World Food Programme (WFP) and NGOs remain essential to meet the food needs of Ethiopians and control malnutrition and deaths resulting from hunger. This article discusses one such programme, the Joint Emergency Operation Plan (JEOP) - a consortium food relief programme implemented by seven NGO partners. Implementation by NGOs of this type of programme is rare, as large scale emergency food aid programmes are usually implemented through WFP channels in other countries. However, through collaborative partnership and continued funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Food for Peace Programme (FFP), NGO partners Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Save the Children (SC) US and UK, CARE Ethiopia, World Vision, Food for the Hungry Ethiopia (FHE), and Relief Society of Tigray (REST) are playing an active role in addressing emergency food needs across Ethiopia for almost two million people per distribution (round).

History and significance of JEOP

JEOP has existed in different forms since 1984. It began life as the Churches' Drought Action Africa /Ethiopia (CDAA/E), a faith based consortium of CRS, Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat (ECS) and Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY). CDAA/E was initiated in response to the famine of 1984 when LWF extended an invitation to other relief and development agencies for a joint Catholic-Protestant appeal for Africa. Agencies recognised that the magnitude of the need was too large for any one agency to handle alone and joint action would yield greater response and impact. Due to the severity of the crisis in Ethiopia, lobbying efforts for funds and food were heavily focused on Ethiopia and a partnership dedicated to the country was formed. The partnership and its name evolved to become Joint Relief Partnership (JRP) in 1986 with CRS in charge of the coordination and logistics, like it is today.5 The partnership was reactivated in 2000 under its current form, JEOP, with five members (CRS, SC-US, WV, FHE, CARE). CRS is the lead agency. In later years, REST and SC-UK also joined.6 All partners are or have been USAID cooperating sponsors, but it has shifted from being a faith based partnership to one which includes secular agencies as well.

JEOP remains dormant in non crisis years. It is activated, in close collaboration with the Government of Ethiopia, when chronic food insecurity is exacerbated by emergency shocks, requiring additional coverage and emergency food relief. As a result of a decade of recurrent shocks, JEOP has been operational seven of the last ten years, providing a significant portion of the emergency food needs for the country (see Figure 1).

The current JEOP was activated in August 2008 to respond to the Government's Disaster Risk Management and Food Security Sector (DRMFSS) request for emergency food assistance. This followed extended drought earlier in the year leading to massive food production shortages and rising food prices. Lane Bunkers, Country Representative of CRS, describes JEOP as "A historically significant NGO consortium with a ten-year track record of responding to emergency food needs in Ethiopia. Working in close collaboration with the Government of Ethiopia, the World Food Programme, and international donors, JEOP members play a critical role in reducing food insecurity and protecting investments made through long-term development projects such as the Productive Safety Net Programme and others."

USAID/FFP recently approved an 'Extended JEOP' that will continue through 2012. Extended JEOP includes new monitoring and evaluation activities, a standardised joint agency Early Warning System, and capacity building for partners. These components are intended to improve programme accountability and expand JEOP's function as a risk assessment and preparedness mechanism, in addition to its regular mandate of providing emergency food relief. The significance and aspirations of these new programmatic aspects are discussed further below.

Programme design and implementation

The JEOP of 2008 was designed with the primary objective of saving human lives and protecting livelihoods through the distribution of food to targeted drought-affected populations. More specifically, the programme planned to address the immediate food security needs of droughtaffected populations, prevent further depletion of household assets, and reduce distress migration of an affected population7.

As the lead agency, CRS is responsible to call forward hundreds of thousands of metric tons of grains, blended foods, pulses, and oil commodities. The agency then oversees the logistics process from shipment at the port of Djibouti until commodities are transported to four primary warehouses placed in different strategic locations of the country. Each of the partners is responsible for collecting their share of the commodities and arranging secondary transport for delivery to their respective distribution sites across the country.

JEOP food distribution is conducted in rounds during which NGO partners distribute rations to targeted households. Distribution of food to the 1.8 million (on average) beneficiaries per round is directly conducted by each of the partner agencies, or in some cases through their local partner agencies on the ground. Implementation of the programme requires very close collaboration with the Government at all levels, starting with the federal DRMFSS structure all the way down to regional, zonal and district level authorities. While NGOs are primarily responsible for handling and distributing commodities, the allocation of food to each district and targeting of individual beneficiaries is processed through Government channels. Due to the nature of the aid system in Ethiopia, NGOs must refer to the Government for all allocations of emergency food relief based on figures from the Humanitarian Requirements Document, the official appeal mechanism of the Ethiopian Government. These appeal figures are based on the assessment results of a joint multi-agency assessment team that conducts surveys at least twice a year to determine humanitarian needs in both food and non food sectors.

JEOP rations are equivalent to the World Heath Organisation standard of 2,100 kcal intake per day (see Table 1 for a breakdown of JEOP rations). Rations for each household are provided at local distribution sites based on household size. The federal Government, CRS, WFP, and USAID convene before each round for a prioritisation meeting to determine food allocations for each target region and zone. A list of priority woredas8 and kebeles9 for the round based on the severity of the food shortage and the availability of resources to respond is drawn up. A woreda level food aid task force comprised of officials from Government line offices of rural agriculture and development, administration, health, and education is in charge of identifying the most vulnerable households to receive food rations. This process of selection is challenging and at times the woreda allocation provided by the federal Government is not enough to meet local needs. At the most local level, a kebele task force of local officials, elders, religious leaders, development agents, and NGO staff oversee distribution at the site to ensure that the identified households receive their rations.

Table 1: JEOP ration breakdown, 2010
Energy based cereals (Wheat) 15 kg/person/month for all drought affected people
Protein supplement (Corn Soya Blend) 4.5 kg/person/month for 35% of beneficiaries considered most vulnerable (children under five years and pregnant and lactating women)
Pulses (Yellow split pea) 1.5 kg/ person /month for all drought affected people
Vegetable Oil 0.45 kg/person /month for all drought affected people

Programme impact and success

The JEOP consortium was responsible for one third of all emergency food relief in Ethiopia between August 2008 and June 2010. During this period, the programme provided 14 rounds of food relief amounting to almost 500,000 MT of food and reaching over 1.8 million beneficiaries on average each round. In interviews with each agency and through review of programme documents, the impact and success of the programme are clear. Key strengths and achievements of JEOP are identified as follows:

A lifeline for vulnerable households

JEOP is meeting its primary mandate to save human lives. The most food-deficient households are selected using a combination of assessment mechanisms provided by the partners and the Government. Households targeted under JEOP are receiving timely food commodities that are acting as a lifeline for these families. This is expressed through countless interviews with beneficiaries undertaken by each of the partners (see case study 1).

Case study 1: Ato Abera Yimam's story

Ato Abera Yimam, 50 years, lives in Tenta woreda with his wife and seven children. Ato Abera and his family faced complete crop failure due to the long drought period. Without any other sources of income, his family members were on the verge of death before they became beneficiaries of JEOP, through World Vision. "I was scared that my child would die.. The programme is a life saver and a true helper of the vulnerable and the poor. Had it not been here, I would have lost my family or they would have lost me." Of course, Abera is just one of millions of people with similar stories of hardship whom JEOP has addressed over the last two years.

Protects household assets

Beneficiaries often emphasize the programme's support with regards to the protection of essential household assets, such as livestock or agricultural equipment. Without assets, a family's chances of escaping the cycle of food insecurity and vulnerability, is further threatened.

Keeps families together and children in school

CARE Ethioia JEOP field staff at a distribution site in Chiro Woreda, West Hararghe Zone, Oromia Region

Migration to urban areas in search of daily labour is another common coping mechanism for farming households in times of crisis. This both separates families, with males migrating and leaving the burden of all domestic duties on the females, and prevents farmers from working on their farms for the next harvest, thus perpetuating the cycle of food insecurity. Fitsum Wineh, 48, a REST beneficiary in Debre Tembien woreda of Tigray Region stated, "Without this food, my family members would have been at serious risk, and my husband would have had to leave to search for food for the family. He stayed home with his family and was given the opportunity to preserve improved seeds from being eaten and produce subsistence food for the household" she added. "It prevented the family from disintegration."

A particularly moving example is provided by CARE Ethiopia from its JEOP operational district in West Hararghe Zone of Oromia Region (see case study 2). Another example comes from SC-US from amongst community members in Cheretie woreda of Somali Region. Here, 846 people were about to be displaced to a refugee centre due to a lack of food before JEOP intervened. The support enabled these households to stay in their community. Cheretie is now being covered by PSNP.

Tatuk Istala, a JEOP beneficiary. Chiro, West Hararghe Zone, Oromia Region

Case study 2: Tatuk Istala's story

 

Since becoming orphaned ten years ago, Tatuk Ishtala, 25 years (see picture), has cared for his six younger siblings on a daily labourer income equivalent to one US dollar per day. The family only had enough to eat once a day, if they ate at all. "Before we received this food, all of my siblings had dropped out of school. Now, all of my brothers and sisters, except one, are attending school. This is because of JEOP," Tatuk stated, "I am illiterate and I don't need my siblings to be the same. I want them to finish school and make an achievement."

Strong accountability of partners

Since NGOs directly administer and implement this programme, the accountability requirements are very high - every sack of food received into the programme must be accounted for to USAID. The accountability requirements for NGOs are especially stringent and JEOP partners closely monitor the food commodities through all stages until they reach the beneficiaries. Partners provide full transparency for Government counterparts through close collaboration on the ground during targeting and distribution. All JEOP partners have a strong reputation for meeting international and national humanitarian standards and providing quality services while adhering to both donor and Government regulations. They have a long standing presence in the country during which they have developed good capacity to manage effectively food relief programmes. All agencies have positive working relationships with the Government, enabling efficient and well coordinated responses.

Flexible and complementary to other development and safety net programmes

JEOP targets food insecure households that are not covered though the PSNP. It thus provides a complementary intervention to prevent acute food shortages from depleting overall community progress gained through PSNP. JEOP seeks to protect the large investment of donors, like USAID, in the PSNP and other long term development programmes. The extended JEOP includes new elements designed to counter potential increases in need with more predictable and timely response to address needs at the most critical time - between the needs identification and actual food delivery. JEOP is flexible and has the ability to expand to all areas of the country as needed. If the implementing partners are not operational in a specific area of need, CRS arranges sub-grants with other partners in order to reach the most vulnerable populations.

Challenges and lessons learned

While the programme has managed successfully to meet its objectives and the partnership has been described as positive by all of the implementing agencies, there are certain challenges.

Delays and changes in allocation of food aid figures to partner agencies represent one of the major problems faced by the programme. There have been different situations in which the food could not be released locally until the final figures for the round were communicated from the central federal level and reached the woreda. Or, an agency would be ready to distribute food in an area only to find out that the area was no longer included in the round. Communication and capacity gaps between or at different levels of Government are part of the problem. The JEOP programme is very flexible in responding to the Government's repeated requests to make adjustments to the plan, such as inclusion or exclusion of woredas and fluctuations of beneficiary numbers which are often required due to changing needs and priorities. However, these delays and readjustments to figures impact the most needy as they are forced to wait until partners are permitted to distribute food. JEOP partners are striving to reduce these problems in future rounds.

The arrival of huge shipments of commodities to ports and warehouses in a very short time frame create congestion and difficulty for partners to secure enough space for their commodity storage, especially as most agencies are also storing PSNP food. In addition, secondary transport to distribution sites proved difficult for some JEOP partners, due to a limited number of reliable transportation vendors and price fluctuations resulting from high demand and competition. These are regular challenges faced by large scale commodity based programmes and different strategies have been used to overcome these problems.

A way forward: the future of JEOP

In the Extended JEOP, partner agencies are considering options for a pooled transport system that could circumvent these logistical issues in the future.

In light of the programme challenges, agencies emphasize the immense benefits of partnership. Through monthly meetings and regular communication, the seven JEOP members are able to share their experiences and challenges with one another to develop solutions collectively. Through combining the efforts and experience of all its partners, JEOP achieves a critical mass of capacity to provide food relief to millions.

Extended JEOP is currently underway and will run through 2012. Food allocation will still be based on the humanitarian needs. This JEOP phase seeks to provide more flexible and timely assistance to all affected Ethiopians through a two year guarantee of continued funding from USAID. This enables long term strategic planning and a new fund management structure of a core team of experienced staff headed by a Chief of Party directly responsible for JEOP. Key highlights of the Extended JEOP include a new Monitoring and Evaluation system to improve programme quality and accountability, a joint Early Warning system which will standardise the data collected from each agency to support national early warning efforts, and closer integration with nutrition and development initiatives, like PSNP, to enhance overall coordination between sectors and programmes.

Collective lessons learned with regard to logistics and coordination are also addressed in the Extended JEOP to avoid bottle necks and provide assistance to vulnerable people in a more efficient and reliable manner. JEOP is striving to move beyond food response by examining emergency response more broadly and seeking additional resources in order to make linkages with other programming efforts, particularly in nutrition and livelihood protection. Partners recognise that different strategies and innovations are required if Ethiopia is to move beyond food aid response. The Extended JEOP signifies a positive step towards bridging the gap between disaster preparedness and reduction and emergency response.

For more information, contact: Alix Carter, Humanitarian Accountability Advisor, CARE Ethiopia, email: acarter@care.org.et and Lane Bunkers, Country Director, Catholic Relief Services (JEOP Lead Agency), email: lbunkers@et.earo.crs.org

Show footnotes

1US Government, Feed the Future, 2010

2Hoddinott, J. IFPRI, 2010

3US Government, Feed the Future, 2010

4Government of Ethiopia, Humanitarian Requirements Document, January 2010

5Solberg, R. A Miracle in Ethiopia, 1991

6In 2009 CRS also included other international organization including Samaritan's Purse, GOAL, and the former Joint Relief Partnership member's Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) and Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY). However, these agencies are not current implementers of JEOP.

7CRS, Fiscal Year 2009 Annual Report, October 2009

8A woreda is an administrative division of Ethiopia (managed by a local government), equivalent to a district.

9A kebele is the smallest administrative unit of Ethiopia similar to a ward, a neighbourhood or a localised and delimited group of people. It is part of a woreda, or district, itself part of a zone, grouped into ethno-linguistic regional zones.

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Reference this page

Alix Carter (2011). Joint Emergency Operation Plan NGO response to emergency food needs in Ethiopia. Field Exchange 40, February 2011. p65. www.ennonline.net/fex/40/joint